IRONTON — Coach Bob Lutz likes to stick with what works. With the way his Ironton Fighting Tigers worked Saturday night, he had no reason to change.
Ironton stuck with its usual ground game and pounded its way past the Highland Fighting Scots, 36-0, in the Division IV Region 15 quarterfinals at Tanks Memorial Stadium.
“I thought we had a big size advantage and as usual they brought the house,” said Ironton coach Bob Lutz. “We were stubborn enough to keep pounding it in there.
“They were physical enough up front to give us some work. A couple of times they brought a linebacker and a safety and we had no chance. But it was a good effort and no one got hurt.”
Like Ironton (9-2), Highland ran the T-formation along with the Wing-T. But the Scots ground game was no match for the Ironton defense.
“They basically controlled the tempo of the whole game, controlling the offensive and defensive lines,” said Highland coach Chad Carpenter. “That was one of our goals coming into the game. They did a great job of applying pressure to our offense and making us do some things we would not normally do. On defense, they got off the ball really well and their big kids moved a lot better than what we initially thought. They basically just overcame us.”
Highland (8-3) finished with 174 yards rushing, but only 93 came against the first team defense. Fullback Justin Staton — a 1,500-yard rusher coming in — finished with 130 yards on 20 carries, but he had 78 yards on 12 carries against Ironton’s first unit and 60 of those yards came on the second play of the game.
“The defense played well. They had the quick trap when they broke it out of there and that was it,” said Lutz.
Ironton defensive end Jon Monnig thought the defense did a good job shutting down the Scots.
“It was a good effort. We knew the fullback was good. To hold him to the one long run was a great effort by our defense. I was pleased with how we played and I’m sure coach (Lutz) was, too,” said Monnig.
Highland tried to slow the Ironton ground game with 8- and 9-man fronts and various stunts. But the Fighting Tigers still racked up 257 yards on the ground on 50 carries and finished with 322 total yards.
“It was nothing different than we’ve seen all year,” said Monnig.
Staton’s run on the second play got the Scots to the Ironton 25, but the defense held as Ethan Preston stopped Staton for a 4-yard loss on a fourth-and-3.
“I felt good at that time,” said Carpenter. It was pretty exciting because it was the first series and we had the long run, but then, we ran into a wall.”
Ironton then went 80 yards in 10 plays with Keith Wetzel running the final 9 yards for the touchdown. A penalty on the conversion moved the ball closer and J.P. Taylor scored to make it 8-0.
An interception by Tommy Waginger, who tight-roped the sidelines, gave Ironton the ball back at its own 34. Nine plays later Preston kept the ball for 4 yards and the lead was 15-0.
Tres Wilks had a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown called back on a penalty and Ironton was unable to score on the possession.
But another punt and a 14-yard return by Wilks gave the ball back to the Fighting Tigers at the Scots’ 33 with 2:30 left in the half. Preston and Taylor clicked on a 20-yard pass play for the touchdown and Ironton led 22-0 at the break.
“Their great big kids on the line gave us fits, but the thing is they moved real well,” Carpenter said. “It wasn’t a bigger, slower kid; they were big, athletic kids. The linebackers moved extremely fast. Normally we go in and have several options during a game, but they basically took those away. They took us out of our game plan early and played extremely physical.”
Taylor returned the second half kickoff 40 yards to the Highland 49. A 27-yard pass play to Wilks got the ball to the 5 and Taylor capped the drive with a 3-yard run to make it 29-0.
The Scots were forced to punt on their first possession of the quarter and Ironton scored on the next play as Tyler Hager bolted 47 yards for the touchdown and a 36-0 lead with 6:12 on the clock.
Lutz inserted his second unit to finish the game.
Highland’s only scoring threat came on its only series in the fourth quarter. The Scots drove from their own 18 to the Ironton 1-yard line, but Jon Shotsky hit Staton short of the goal line on fourth down with 33 seconds to play.
“I don’t think there was one specific area where we had a breakdown; our kids played really hard,” said Carpenter. “I don’t think it was a case of us not preparing enough or the kids quitting mentally. They were just a really good ball team.”
Despite the first-round loss, Carpenter is still proud of his young team. This marked their fourth playoff appearance in a row, and the loss showed them what they need to work on.
“This is still exciting,” Carpenter said. “The program is moving in the right direction. This let our kids build another year of experience and showed them the level we need to be at. this gives them a goal for next year — to continue the streak — and gives us something to work for in the off season. I don’t think our kids will be content; they are going to work hard to get back there, and hopefully, we can use that to vault into next year.”
The Fighting Tigers will now play Heath at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Nelsonville-York High School. Heath beat Zane Trace on Saturday night, 48-9.